I haven’t always wanted to be a Catholic; at least not in the fullest sense. I took a break from “organized religion” for several years of my young adult life and eventually, although I was raised with the sacraments in a loving Catholic family, the demons of the college life became much too enticing. The religious life, I decided, was boring and irrelevant. I wanted to have fun; and I felt entitled to it. I had become a grown-up kindergartner.
Though I maintained a limping sense of the spiritual after leaving home, I stopped all religious participation and adopted a completely self-serving lifestyle. God was no longer my friend; nor was he my Father (at least not until I was in big trouble). But good kids trust their dad; they obey him because they understand intuitively that there is a hierarchy of intelligence and wisdom in play. They understand they’re not at the top.
Fathers (and of course mothers) tend to “know better”; they are pillars of wisdom and knowledge and it is in a child’s best interests to listen to them whether they want to or not. Nonetheless, by the time I had reached my earlier twenties and university was winding down, I had adopted a life that had no room for my Father in heaven, nor Mother Church on earth.
Though I became skeptical of many of the major claims of Christianity, I never reached atheism; at least not intellectually. I did however reach atheism in practice (as too many of today’s professed Christians have). Practical atheism, is defined by one atheist website as “disbelief in or rejection of gods as a matter of practice if not necessarily theory.” And that was me: believing in God but not acting like it (or what some people call “hypocrisy”). Hypocrisy is inevitable for us all (thanks to our first parents) because we are sinners; and we all too often, like St. Paul, “do not do the good we want, but the evil we do not want is what we do.” The key difference is in the will. Practical atheists don’t try; they’re all lip service. Christians fight and persevere. They do what they don’t want to do whether they want to do it or not.
This whole thing about what we “ought” to do and whether it’s worth doing comes down to two things: the true and the good. If Catholicism—or any religion for that matter—is true and if it is good for us then we ought to want it; and we ought to do it. After all, we want everything else that is true and good. Nobody likes to be lied to, and nobody wants to be unhappy. We want to live in the real world; and we want to be happy while we’re at it.
This is precisely what the Catholic Church teaches. It promises to be the indestructible “pillar and bulwark of truth” as the one institution established and empowered by God himself. It also promises hope in this life, and everlasting joy in the next to those who persevere in love. Sounds like a good deal; if it’s true.
Why be Catholic? Because to be Catholic is to be in full union with the one thing that can make you most sane and most happy. A tall claim, to be sure; but it’s not an arrogant claim. It’s a truth claim. I am Catholic because I am convinced the Church is the only place I will find the fullness of truth and joy. That’s why I’m Catholic: because I believe Catholicism is true.
G.K. Chesterton believed that often the first step for a convert is the decision to be fair to the Catholic Church. That’s right—fair. All too often those who are skeptical towards Catholicism are quick to give their objections and are, perhaps, too caught up in admiration of their own objection to hear the Catholic response. In effect, the skeptic becomes like the golfer who is too busy admiring his long drive to realize it’s headed straight for the water trap—the golfer who looks away in self-contentment before he sees where his ball is about to land. The water trap gets the best of the long drive; but the golfer isn’t paying attention.
Catholicism is both logical and evidence-based; but most skeptics just haven’t been listening. Shortly after his full entrance into the Catholic Church, Chesterton wrote in his book The Catholic Church and Conversion:
“It is impossible to be just to the Catholic Church. The moment a man ceases to pull against it he feels a tug towards it. The moment he ceases to shout it down he begins to listen to it with pleasure. The moment he tries to be fair to it he begins to be fond of it.”
The problem with many of the objections towards Catholicism is not that they are illogical; indeed they are often logical. But a logical argument is not always a good argument. The contention that all Canadian Prime Ministers are aliens, and thus, because Justin Trudeau is the current Canadian Prime Minister he must be an alien, is a logical argument; but it’s foolish. One who makes that argument hasn’t considered all of the evidence seriously. It’s an unfair and thus intellectually dishonest argument.
The big point I am trying to get to (in a rather roundabout way) is that there are good reasons to be Catholic. Here are three:
1. Catholicism is reasonable. There are many aspects of Catholic belief that cannot be immediately reached by deductive reasoning: that God is a Trinity, for example. But the idea of one God in three co-equal and co-eternal persons is not a logical contradiction either; it just requires fine distinctions to be made and understood—namely, the difference between person and nature.
But some religious beliefs can be reached via deductive logic. The Church from her foundation has always recognized that there are footprints of God in the natural world. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that God’s existence can be known through the observation of created things (see Rom 1:20). Science combined with reason is a powerful combination for the believer.
Various arguments that address the question “Why is there something rather than nothing?” demonstrate how religious truths can indeed be reached logically (like God’s existence, for example). Since reason tells us that things do not pop into existence without a cause, and scientific investigation (as well as philosophical reasoning) makes a good case for the beginning of the universe, it can thus be concluded that the universe has an eternal, all-powerful cause unbound by space and time.
And of course there are the cosmological arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas who observed (building on the arguments of the pagan Aristotle), for example, that an infinite regress of caused causes leads to logical problems; and thus there must be an infinitely perfect being—an Uncaused Cause—behind it all to get the domino effect going in the first place (as well as to sustain it here and now). Indeed it was such arguments as these that played a huge part in moving perhaps the 20th century’s most renowned atheist, Antony Flew, to belief in a Creator.
2. Catholicism is historical. C.S. Lewis in his essay “God in the Dock” remarked that many of the unbelievers he encountered had no trouble believing in prehistoric man; but there was a paradox:
“I had supposed that if my hearers disbelieved the Gospels, they would do so because
the Gospels recorded miracles. But my impression is that they disbelieved them simply because they dealt with events that happened a long time ago.”
Nonetheless, that Jesus existed is confirmed by nearly every New Testament historian on the planet. Due to a plenitude of early sources, and the multiple attestations of Christian, Jewish and secular sources, New Testament historians (particularly the skeptical ones) are interested in much bigger questions such as: “What did the Church persecutor Paul (not to mention the apostles) see that convinced him Jesus had resurrected from the dead?” and “What explains the rise of early Christianity?”
Indeed the non-Christian historical sources are valuable and interesting, but that’s not where the story ends. We must also ask: what was early Christianity like? And for that, one must go to the early Church Fathers and ecclesiastical writers of the first seven or so centuries.
What do we find in these early Christian writings? Catholicism. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, baptismal regeneration, the baptism of infants, and the authority of the bishops are not disputed; they are staples of the faith. At the beginning of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch calls the Church of Christ “catholic”. We find the veneration of saintly relics in The Martyrdom Of Polycarp. Irenaeus records the succession of the first four popes of Rome. Tertullian describes how Christians make the sign of the cross on their foreheads. C.S. Lewis wrote that “a young atheist cannot be too careful of his reading”. The same would also appear true for the Protestant.
Indeed, as Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman learned and thus noted, “to be steeped in history is to cease to be Protestant.” It’s not that Protestants aren’t our brothers and sisters in Christ—they are. It’s just that they’re separated from the fullness of the Church and her wisdom and we Catholics want them to come home. Our arms are ever open and waiting.
3. Catholicism is biblical. We’ve talked about historical sources that support the claims and beliefs of Catholicism; but we haven’t talked about the primary source, both theologically and historically: the written Word of God.
One of the shocking things I realized when I re-entered the Catholic Church was how plainly biblical her teachings were. We believe that we are saved by grace because St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says so (Eph 2:8). But we also believe that we are saved by faith—but not “by faith alone” because that’s what the Bible says (James 2:24). We believe true faith works in love and thus we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Gal 5:6; Phil 2:12). We believe that the deposit of faith has been passed down through the Sacred Writings and also by sacred oral tradition because that’s what Paul taught (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 1 Cor 11:2). We believe that priests can forgive our sins in the presence of Christ because Jesus said to the apostles “whose sins you forgive are forgiven them” (John 20:21-23). But we also believe that the grace required for our salvation comes freely through the sacraments, beginning with baptism, because the New Testament says things like “Baptism…now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21).
We also believe in the authority of the Church as the teacher and interpreter of the faith. Jesus makes the final authority of the Church clear in Matthew 18 and, furthermore, St. Paul calls the Church ” the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). We recognize Peter and his successors as the leader and Prime Minister of the Church because, well, it is a sort of sociological necessity; even for the Church of God. Every institution on earth needs a “boss” because people disagree on things. But also, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (signifying a new mission like when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham) and then gave him “the keys” and the power to bind and loose (Matt 16:18-20; Is 22). There can be no mistaking it: Jesus gave Peter authority over the Church, and his successors (see Acts 1:20) would inherit that authority.
Finally, we believe in the Eucharist because Jesus said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you” and “my flesh is food indeed”. Then the night before he died he showed the apostles how this was to be done by revealing his flesh and blood in the form of bread and wine. “Do this”, said Jesus. And to this day the Catholic Church continues to do this in memory of Christ making present today the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary. The Eucharistic sacrifice is a re-presentation and this is the source and summit of the Christian life.
That is why a Eucharistic Church is the final resting place for every human. It is the one place where spiritual and bodily communion is possible with God in this life: and from that one great meeting with God flows all kinds of extraordinary possibilities. That is ultimately why I am Catholic. Because of the Eucharist. I believe it is found in the Communion of the Catholic Church—and only there. The Catholic Church, I believe, is where man finds everything he is looking for.
***Tune-in next week when I discuss this same question on Catholic Answers Live.